By Kiera Aaron
Sure, The Cookie Diet is a little odd. But when it comes to weird diets, it doesn’t get much weirder than The hCG Diet.
This Internet fad advocates that people can drop their extra pounds by taking hCG—a hormone that’s found naturally in the placenta—via injections or oral drops.
According to some sources, the diet was originally invented by Dr. A.T.W. Simeons, an endocrinologist who conducted research on the approach during the 1950s. (No word on why they haven’t updated their findings from six decades.) Now it’s being marketed as the latest quick-fix diet all over the Web.
The hCG hormone is found in all women in low doses, but it gradually skyrockets over the course of a pregnancy, beginning at 3 weeks, explains LeeAnn Weintraub, M.P.H., R.D., and expert on diets. Its job is to tell the body’s fat cells to release stored fat, which then is used to nourish the fetus and placenta.
The hypothesis: Without a fetus, hCG causes the fat to simply be released into your blood stream where it can be used as energy. So the idea is that you can live off of your own fat instead of relying on food. This why the dieters can supposedly eat only 500 calories per day and still be satisfied. But here’s a news flash: You can live off your own fat even if you don’t take hCG! And reducing your calorie intake to 500 a day is a sure way to get your body to dip into its fat reserves for fuel. It’s known as being in a state of starvation.
There’s another big flaw in this plan: Pregnant women experience a major hormonal shift. As a result, most experts are skeptical that the same chemicals would have the same effects when removed from their environment (which in this case, is a pregnant woman).
Plus, there haven’t been any studies that prove that injecting hCG can help you lose weight. To be fair, the absence of research doesn’t prove that the injections don’t work. Nevertheless, we won’t be recommending this diet plan any time soon. Here are some other hCG diet claims, debunked:
The claim: “Most hCG dieters report a loss of 1 to 2 lbs a day. At the very least, .5 pound a day, and at the most, 3 + lbs a day.”
The reality: Anyone can lose weight by eating a potentially unsafe 500 calories day. “There’s no evidence that any of this weight loss can be attributed to the hormone,” states Weintraub.
The claim: “While you are only consuming 500 calories, your hypothalamus is continually releasing the fat stored in your body. Because of this, your body is actually operating on thousands of calories a day.”
The reality: “Even if the hormone works properly, the body isn’t receiving any vitamins, nutrients, or fiber,” warns Weintraub. “Symptoms like nausea, weakness and constipation can occur after just a few days.” Dieters are also at risk for gallstone formation and heart problems further down the road.
The claim: “hCG Dieters lose an average of 1 to 3 lbs per day while modifying their metabolism and eating habits for long term results.”
The reality: We don’t know what type of “modification” they’re promising, but the only adjustment Weintraub predicts is a slower metabolism. “Even when you begin to eat a normal amount again, your body will store even more fat because it’s been in starvation mode.”